By Irvin Himmel
What does it take to give life to a congregation? A fine building? A large membership? Wealth? Involvement in community projects? Special activities for the young? Dinners and parties? Recreation and frolic? Organized visitation? Zoning and committees? Vast outlays for general benevolence? Educational Directors, Associate Ministers, Secretaries, and Youth Directors? A kindergarten? Subsidizing of colleges, benevolent organizations, and missionary societies? A Jiome for unwed mothers? A slum project or intercity mission? Workshops? Rap sessions? The sponsoring of a work beyond the means of the congregation and necessitating appeals to the brotherhood for assistance? Fund drives? Attendance drives? A bus ministry? Contests and prizes?
A local church may engage in all sorts of activities by which it makes a name for itself. By highly advertised humanitarian enterprises widespread attention may be gained. A fabulous edifice may be the envy of religious neighbors. Numerous schemes and plans will bring in crowds. Promotionalism packs pews, prods people, produces pecuniary proceeds, propagates popular programs, pleases pride, and procures public praise.
Warning to “Big Name” Churches
One little fact often is overlooked. A church may make a name for itself-a reputation that it is a live congregation, but the Lord’s appraisal. may be the reverse. Such was the case at Sardis in Rev. 3:1. The Lord said, “I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.”
What a tragedy that a church gains the reputation of being alive, sound, and great, whereas the Lord pronounces it dead!
This brings us to the important question, What does it take to make a live church in God’s sight? It matters not what men may judge to be indicative of interest, growth, and vitality; what is the Lord’s requirement? The church at Laodicea said, “I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing.” This congregation supposed it was in excellent condition. But the Lord pronounced it “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17). What a contrast between the human and divine evaluations!
Back to the Bible
Only by going to the Bible can we determine what the Lord expects of the church. A study of the book of Acts will reveal what the apostolic congregations did that brought divine approval. The epistles of the New Testament, including the letters to the seven churches of Asia, make known what God endorses, and what lacks divine sanction. The local church should pattern its activities and program of work according to the Scriptures, not current popular plans and expectations.
The local church that follows the Bible will be different, radically different, from the rank and file of modern churches. It will omit humanly-devised claptrap, fanfare, and superficial show. It will leave off unscriptural offices, titles, functions, and objectives. Stressing genuine godliness and spirituality, it will include all that the Bible authorizes for its program of work and worship. It will be remarkably simple. Many will view such a congregation as peculiar and strange. Some will speak of it with contempt and ridicule, declaring that it is narrow and outmoded.
Christ’s church can make no better contribution to the general welfare of the community than through the preaching and living of the gospel. No higher work can be accomplished abroad than assisting in the spread of the gospel. The most valuable thing the church can do for young people is to teach, train, and discipline them in the gospel. Whether people are young or old, in the slums or high-class suburbs, educated or uneducated, their common need is the gospel, The primary mission of the church is evangelization-the proclaiming of the good news.
The church at Thessalonica was commended for sounding out the word of the`Lord (I Thess. 1:8). The church at Jerusalem sent forth Barnabas to teach and preach in Antioch (Acts 11:22). The church at Philippi was praised for sharing with Paul that he might preach (Phil. 1:5; 4:14-16). The churches of Macedonia supplied Paul with wages that he might do service for the Lord elsewhere (2 Cor. 11:8).
A congregation belonging to Christ, whether large or small, in the city or in the country, will come to the rescue of saints in need. The believers in Jerusalem sold lands and houses that none among them would lack (Acts 4:32-37). Disciples in Antioch sent relief to brethren in Judea in time of famine (Acts 11:27-30). Paul taught the churches of Macedonia and Achaia to contribute to the poor saints at Jerusalem (Rom. 15:25 27; 1 Cor. 16:1-4).
The church that is truly alive will resist false doctrine. The church at Pergamos was rebuked because some held to the doctrine of Balaam (Rev. 2:14). The church at Ephesus was congratulated for finding false apostles to be liars (Rev. 2:2). Paul left Timothy at Ephesus to charge that no doctrine be taught except the doctrine of Christ (1 Tim. 1:3).
A live congregation is wade up of God-fearing, pure, zealous people. They are alert to their individual duties. They put God’s word into action in their daily lives at home, at school, at work, and on vacation. Christ lives in them.
Truth Magazine XIX: 43, pp. 683-684
September 11, 1975